WRENTHAM, Mass. – Senior tailback Joe Johnston rushed for 149 yards on 19 carries (106 yards in the second half) and in the fourth quarter provided the lone score of the game, as No. 22 King Philip held off a strong challenge from visiting Westwood to pick up a 7-0 win in its home opener.
It was a hard-hitting, grind-it-out game, which suited the Warriors and head coach Brian Lee just fine.
“I think we just talked a lot about perseverance,” said Lee. “We talked about trying to wear them down. When it was 0-0 at the half, it was right where we wanted to be… We knew were having trouble moving the ball and we just had to try and grit it out.”
Westwood (1-1), which scored 36 points in an exciting upset of preseason No. 21 Needham last week, struggled to get going offensively and head coach Ed Mantie gave some credit to the KP defense, but also felt that the problems were self-inflicted. The Wolverines had seven false start penalties, including four in its first two series, had two punts blocked (and another two that went a combined 13 yards), and an interception that led to the winning drive.
“One step forward and two steps back, that’s what it was all day long,” he remarked. “Our punting game was awful. Every time we would make a play and change the field position on them, we would pick up a penalty. Against a defense like that, if you get into first and long, it’s really, really hard.”
Owen Galvin made the big defensive play in the fourth quarter with an interception off of Westwood quarterback Bo Berluti at the Wolverines 39-yard line. Christian Flaherty (9 carries, 58 yards) had a pair of rushes, but a penalty made it second and 10 at the 25.
Sophomore quarterback Derek Roschlein, who had been replaced at halftime but had to come back in after an injury, hit Johnston for 28 yards to the Westwood 7. It was his only completion of the game (1-4, 18 yards). Johnston would cap the drive with a touchdown on the next play.
Lee was proud of Roschlein’s reaction to being pulled after halftime. He said, “That could kill a kid, which is why you don’t want to do it and then he comes back and does a great job for us. He has done a great job filling in some games.”
There was still 6:29 on the clock and Westwood would start the next possession on its own 43. After a first down, the Wolverines had a false start penalty, a fumbled snap that lost three yards, a negative rush, an incompletion, and were forced to punt. It encapsulated how the Westwood offense performed all game and, according to Mantie, it wasted a solid game from the defense.
“Our defense played great, certainly well enough to win,” said Mantie. “Our offense has to do better and our special teams need to step up and do what we need to do to win… If we hold a team like that to seven points, we need should be able to get two scores to win.”
KP (2-0) had one last possession to run out the clock with 3:39 left at its own 11-yard line and Johnston stepped up with the longest play from scrimmage. He raced 65 yards down the left sideline to ice the game for the Warriors, who got to the Westwood 1 before taking a knee and running out the clock.
Johnston was also a prominent player on the defensive side of the ball as the Warriors limited Berluti (13-17, 93 yards passing and 13 carries, 21 yards rushing) and the spread formation attack of the Wolverines. The Warriors had success despite an injury to senior linebacker Brett McEvoy that kept him out of the first few defensive possessions of the second half. Johnston was everywhere in the middle of the field and junior lineman John Marcinkevicius continually got into the Westwood backfield.
“They’re very similar types of players for us,” explained Lee about his two senior captains. “When one is down then the other one steps in and picks the other one up and we do that as a team as well.”
Despite the defeat, Mantie is hopeful that the two games against Division 2 competition would reap benefits when league play begins in two weeks. He noted, “We want to make this the last game that we lose. Iron sharpens iron, as they say, so we should be pretty sharp by now.”
Both teams have a bye next week. The following Friday, King Philip will travel to Taunton and Westwood goes to Medfield.